Government should take no more money than necessary

Government should take no more money than necessary By Gov. Bill Janklow Government should take no more money from the taxpayers than it needs. Unfortunately, many school districts across South Dakota have abused that trust with the taxpayers. They are sitting on large reserves, money that was supposed to go for the daily operation of their schools. Rather than putting the money where it was intended � to educate children � many school districts are hoarding it.

Why would they shortchange students by not buying supplies and not paying better salaries to good teachers? Why would they bank huge piles of cash and then beg taxpayers and the Legislature for more? Why would they try to take away education money being spent by the state government on wiring and technology for local schools? Why would they complain they couldn�t afford to attract teachers, when they have money available?

We know some of the answers. Some districts, instead of spending the state aid that is given to them by the Legislature, are saving that money to construct buildings. That is inappropriate. State government provides aid for the daily operation of schools. State aid comes from the state sales tax and other state taxes paid by all of us. Local taxpayers should decide whether to tax themselves for a new school. It is not state government�s role to fund K-12 construction.

I realize some school officials and taxpayers favor using state aid to help reduce the expense to them when they want a new building. But put the shoe on the other foot: Why should you as a taxpayer help fund a new school in another district, especially when you can�t vote there and have no control over what they�re doing with your tax money?

There are also districts where they are stockpiling money because enrollments are falling. But why should today�s students and teachers be shortchanged? Since the 1970s, we�ve seen enrollment statewide drop from about 180,000 students to about 130,000. Declining enrollments are nothing new.

Large cash reserves are a new problem. Because smaller schools argued they don�t operate as efficiently as larger schools, we agreed five years ago to give them a bonus. In fact, the smallest schools receive 20 percent more in state aid per pupil. At the same time, to give districts more local control, we removed many state mandates. One of those we replaced was a 30 percent limit on general fund reserves.

Look what happened: Many districts now have reserves in excess of 30 percent, and many of them also receive the smaller-school bonus.

They aren�t using the extra money they said they needed.

Some people have suggested we go back to the 30 percent cap. I think that�s still too much money to have sitting in the bank. A good compromise might be 25 percent.

How widespread is the problem of large reserves? It�s rampant. In fact, it�s easier to list the school districts whose general fund reserves didn�t exceed 25 percent on June 30, 1999. They are Andes Central, Belle Fourche, Bon Homme, Brandon Valley, Custer, Dakota Valley, Douglas, Dupree, Hamlin, Huron, Isabel, Lake Preston, Lennox, Mitchell, Newell, Oelrichs, Parker, Pierre, Rapid City, Rutland, Shannon County, Sioux Falls, Sioux Valley, Smee, Timber Lake, Wagner, Watertown, Waverly and Wilmot. Every other school district in South Dakota had general fund reserves greater than 25 percent.

Together, the 176 school districts had $197 million of general funds sitting in the bank, rather than paying to educate South Dakota�s children. That�s an increase of $120 million in just five years. They had $77 million in reserve in 1994, before the cap was lifted.

This is just wrong.

We need to make sure taxpayers� money is spent as intended and students get the education that was promised when the money was taken.

It�s time to stop transfers from general funds to building projects.

It�s time to require districts with big reserves to hold public hearings on how the money should be used.

It�s time to require districts to hold elections on building projects.

The Legislature returns March 14. I may be the only one, but I�m going to fight for taxpayers and for the students. Legislators always hear from the people who want money, but they seldom hear from the taxpayers. It�s time the taxpayers make their voices heard about how their money should be appropriately used to educate South Dakota�s children.

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